History of Ancient Philosophy

In this course, we will study some of the first philosophical views and arguments offered in the recorded history of Western philosophy. Some of these views say that everything is water, or fire, or air; that change and motion are impossible; that we already know everything but just have to get ourselves to remember it; that we cannot know anything and should not be bothered by that fact. But these are not just quaint historical curiosities. They depict an effort to live out a way of life with philosophy at its heart, to actively care about how we ought to live, what we can know about ourselves and the world, and what it means to get along well with other people. However foreign ancient Greek culture may seem to us, these philosophical writings challenge us to ask us whether we ourselves are comparatively more at home in, or more estranged from, the world as we know it now; and whether we should, or even could, try to make our society now more like it was back then. And as we will see, these ancient claims about metaphysics, epistemology and ethics are so fundamental to our lives as human beings that they have set the terms for many of the philosophical debates that live on to this day.

To appreciate and understand this philosophical legacy of ancient Greek philosophy, we will progress chronologically, reading about the presocratic philosophers from 585 b.c. onward, through the life of Socrates and some central works of Plato and Aristotle, concluding with a brief look at the Hellenic philosophies of Epicureanism, Stoicism, and Pyrrhonian skepticism.